Jackie Job
Photo: P Krishnapradeep

South African contemporary dancer Jackie Job seemed head over heels in love with Kerala as she spoke ardently about her maiden visit to the verdant paradise. Jackie, an artiste who has performed before Nelson Mandela and the Dutch royalty, says she got addicted to 'Kalarippayattu'.  

Kerala food and the unusual combination of dal and pappaya

Talking about the most remarkable thing that she has noticed about the state, Jackie was quick to mention food. She waxed eloquent on the steamed jaggery-sweetenedjack-fruit paste wrapped in plantain leaf {chakka ada}. Jackie recounted how much she relished every bite of the food cooked by her host Reena at Daniel’s home-stay at Thrikkaipatta in Wayanad.

‘Pappaya with dal’ was another food that bewitched her. “I never had pappaya with dal in my entire life. A very unusual combination, but delicious,” she said as if the taste of it was still lingering on her tongue.

According to Jackie, people here are extremely generous. “It is a kind of warm generosity, not a simulated one. They are not growing money tree in their garden, but still they share the food and live contentedly with what they have.” She was also captivated by the way people produce their own food on their backyard.

Jackie is not familiar with the socio-political situation of the state, but still she feels being able to cohabit with people with different religious and political ideologies is something wonderful. Not all communities can achieve this.

Learning Kalarippayattu

While talking to Jackie, one can sense her unending quest to learn new things, experiment and explore. So quite normally in Kerala, she bumped into ‘Kalarippayattu.’    

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With inmates of Sukritham girls home at ‘Yum Lab’ ice creamery

Jackie seemed short of words to describe how much she was enticed by ‘kalarippayattu’. “I got addicted to Kalarippayattu. I am not a morning person. Still I woke up at 6 am to attend the classes.” She had concerns about practising on a mud floor without shoes as she is very protective of her feet. However, her teacher motivated her to practice barefoot. “I was a bit scared. But, my teacher said the clay won’t hurt and that it is so soothing. He was right. I felt much energised after the class.”

Jackie expressed her desire to pursue the martial art form even after leaving India. The movements were similar to that of contemporary dance, she says. She also found that it makes a significant political statement as it accommodates people of all ages - women, men and children in the same confined space.

Traffic, chaotic but interesting

Jackie’s observation about the traffic in Kerala is something that all of us  would be in agreement. But still, she said she felt very calm. “I find that quite interesting that it looked a bit chaotic, the traffic, the driving, but still I felt very clam. It’s wonderful energy."

Though Jackie’s association with Indian classical dance form is too brief to form a notion, she remembers working with a Bharatanayam dancer in Durban in South Africa, performing ‘aarathi.’

More than any other dance form, she is attracted to Butoh, a contemporary dance form created at the end of 50s and 60s in Japan. In her words, Butoh is an art form that cannot be captured by a definition. “If you ask me why I was so much attracted to it, is because both my solo work and Butoh are about hybrid identity. Both are full of contradictions and full of paradoxes.”

Performing before Mandela

If someone were to ask Jackie her most cherished moment, she would recollect the two occasions she got to perform before the iconic leader Nelson Mandela.

Jackie recalls how she got goose bumps when she saw him walking into the Royal Theatre Carré, Amsterdam.  “Everyone, including the Dutch royal family who were seated, stood up. I was backstage, viewing his entrance on the screen. I could feel the energy. Onstage, I bowed to him in greeting. He was seated in the front row. He returned my bow gracefully. That made for a wonderful feeling.”

Mandela was rumoured to be ill and with failing eyesight. “But when he bowed”, Jackie said, “I understood that he could see me and I have to give a flawless performance.” She had performed before Madiba earlier too in Capetown and had felt a similar frisson then.

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A constant learner

The peripatetic Jackie speaks six languages. “I speak English and Afrikaans. These are the two languages that I grow up with. I come from a place which was once a Dutch colony. So I knew Dutch. I speak German as I have worked in Germany. Because I have lived in Japan for eight years, I speak Japanese. My husband is French. So I speak French too. The indigenous languages of Africa are something I need to brush upon,” she said with a smile.  

Jackie is currently doing her  thesis on the theory of liminality, which in her words, is the ambiguous state of being in between. “I am working to develop a theory on this from the body perspective and through my performances.”

Jackie was very much fascinated by the villages of Kerala and is planning to comeback with her family.  Husband Cedric Leherle, born in Marseille, France multi-tasks as a talent agent, model, photographer and actor. Daughter Paloma Job-Leherle is nine years old. She speaks and writes fluently in both English and French. She dreams of becoming a professional singer, has a great sense of humour, and loves to imitate accents. The word "paloma" means "dove" in Spanish, so it's the symbol of love, freedom and peace.

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Enjoying with the kids

After this interview in Mathrubhumi head office, she had a hectic schedule. She visited ‘Bnana’ boutique run by designer Nana Mohammed in Gujarathi street. Then in adjacent ‘Yum Lab’ ice creamery she performed with the girl inmates of ‘Sukritham Girls Home,’ Naduvannur. Then she met Sanjith Mondal, painter-caretaker of ‘Gudhaam Art Café,’ and its designer Naseeb  Mahmood and viewed Sarathchandran’s paintings in the art gallery. Afterwards, she met fr. John Mannarathara, principal of ‘Silver Hills School’ in ‘Chavara Cultural Centre,’ where she enjoyed the sight of kids on roller-skates. Then she visited Aswathi, dancer and MT’s daughter, of ‘Nrityalaya school of dance and music,’ Chalappuram. Finale was a grand dinner in ‘Paragon restaurant,’ with Sumesh Mangalassery, painter Binusha J B  and trainer and story-teller Shweta Vij, all of ‘Kabani,’ responsible tourism organisation.

In her next visit, Jacki intends to journey through Kerala, halting at select villages to perform her art while giving a break to the mainstream theatre. Till then her twinkle toes will work their magic in other shores.